What is Discogram?

An injured disc can be a source of pain. A discogram is an X-ray procedure used to determine if a particular disc is the source of pain. Discograms are provocative tests, meaning that they attempt to reproduce a pain rather than remove a pain. The reproduction of pain during a discogram can help the doctor determine if injury to a particular disc is the source of a person’s pain.

Why is Discogram performed?

A discogram is an invasive test that generally isn’t used for an initial evaluation of back pain. Your doctor might suggest a discogram if your back pain persists despite conservative treatments, such as medication and physical therapy.

Some doctors use a discogram before spinal fusion surgery to help identify which disks need to be removed. However, discograms are not always accurate in pinpointing which disks, if any, are causing back pain. Many doctors instead rely on other tests, such as MRI and CT scanning, to diagnose disk problems and guide treatment.


What should I know before receiving Discogram?

A discogram is generally safe. But as with any medical procedure, a discogram carries a risk of complications, including:

  • Infection
  • Worsening of chronic back pain
  • Headache
  • Injury to nerves or blood vessels in and around the spine
  • Allergic reaction to the dye


How to prepare for Discogram?

You might need to avoid taking blood-thinning medications for a time before the procedure. Your doctor will tell you what medicines you can take. You will need to avoid food or drink the morning before the test.

What happens during Discogram?

A discogram is performed in a clinic or hospital room that has imaging equipment. You’ll likely be there for up to three hours, although the test itself takes 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how many disks are tested.

Although you’re awake during the procedure, your doctor might give you a sedative through a vein to help you relax. You also might be given an antibiotic to help prevent infection.

You lie on a table on your abdomen or side. After cleaning your skin, your doctor may inject a numbing medicine to decrease pain caused by the insertion of the discogram needle.

Your doctor will use an imaging technique (fluoroscopy) to watch the needle enter your body. Fluoroscopy allows more precise and safer placement of the needle into the center of the disk to be examined. A contrast dye is then injected into the disk, and an X-ray or CT scan is taken to see if the dye spreads.

If the dye stays in the center of the disk, the disk is normal. If the dye spreads outside the center of the disk, the disk has undergone some wear-and-tear change. These changes might or might not be the cause of your pain.

Typically, if a disk is causing your back pain, you will feel pain during the injection that’s similar to the back pain you have daily. If a disk is normal, there’s little pain during the injection. During the discogram, you’ll be asked to rate your pain.

What happens after Discogram?

You remain in the procedure room for approximately 30 to 60 minutes for observation. After that, you’ll be able to go home, but you’ll need someone to drive.

It’s normal to have some pain at the injection site or in the low back for several hours after the procedure. Applying an ice pack to the area for 20 minutes at a time might help. You’ll need to keep your back dry for 24 hours.

If you develop severe back pain or you develop a fever one to two weeks after the procedure, call your doctor right away.

If you have any questions about the Discogram, please consult with your doctor to better understand your instructions.

Explanation of results

What do my results mean?

Your doctor will review the images and the information you provided about the pain you had during the procedure to help pinpoint the source of your back pain. Your doctor will use this information to guide your treatment or prepare for surgery.

Doctors usually don’t rely on the results of a discogram alone because a disk with wear-and-tear change might not cause pain. Also, pain responses during a discogram can vary widely.

Typically, results of a discogram are combined with results of other tests — such as an MRI or CT scan and physical examination — when determining a treatment plan for back pain.

Depending on the laboratory and hospital, the normal range for Discogram may vary. Please discuss with your doctor any questions you may have about your test results.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: November 4, 2018 | Last Modified: November 4, 2018

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